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Wed, 28 October 2020

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By Andrew Mahon
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Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not

Talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not
3 min read

Ahead of his debate on social mobility, Lord Holmes writes for PoliticsHome arguing Britain must ensure that opportunities are open to all.

“[A county] where every single person - regardless of their background, or that of their parents - is given the chance to be all they want to be.”

Important words from the Prime Minister’s conference speech in Birmingham last month.  Words which should and need to be spoken by whoever happens to be behind that famous black door.

Important words because, if they are not given the commitment, the funding and focus, if individuals are not empowered, enabled to rise, then what is the point of politics and how can we consider our society to be civilized?

Today, in the Lords, I have the honour of leading a debate on social mobility: where we are, where the challenges and opportunities lie and what needs to be done right across the country to create the environment where every single person is given the chance to be all they want to be.

I will talk about schools and sport, apprenticeships and aspiration, character and collaboration, digital and diversity.

Essentially, how do we all ensure that the golden thread of opportunity for everyone runs through everything?  In school, a quality, aspiration rich education for all.  Alongside the essential academic standards we must have funded and focussed programmes of sport, art, music- the magic that maketh the person, the kernels of character. 

In sport specifically, how will the sugary drinks tax be fully utilized to supercharge school sport? And to make sure it is targeted in the right places but also with broad appeal; to make it about games, recreation and, always, fun.  The opportunity is great, not least to fully put right the appalling wrong which done to school sport, where ideology unchecked was allowed to triumph over already successful systems of school sports partnerships.    

In respect to character education it is vital that this continues to have full focus.  Vital because, in an increasingly fractured labour market it will be those qualities of resilience, flexibility, adaptability, grit and determination that are essential for future-proofing employees. The major reason for this labour market fracturing being the, already underway, digital revolution, a revolution happening at such speed that it threatens to leave many behind, not least those most up for mobility.  If 35% of jobs are in danger of automation what will this mean, not least as many of those jobs are traditionally those which were the routes to attain social mobility.  One priority must be, digital literacy, this must be seen as important as literacy and numeracy.  Last year’s Lord’s select committee report, Make or Break, made this point well.

And what of post school.  It seems crazy that in such modern times there is still such a disparity between higher and further education and indeed, other routes.  The danger is, an over focus on higher education with the inevitability of shadowing out other potentially positive, mobility making options, not least apprenticeships and other workplace opportunities. 

To this end, it would seem sensible to consider ending the national curriculum at 14, recognising the 14-19 years as a single transition stage.  Alongside this, gold standard careers advice, if individuals are to aspire to a variety of roles they first need to know of their existence and what is entailed, I didn’t know about most jobs at that age and stage.

The essential truth remains, talent is everywhere, opportunity is not.  Today we debate social mobility but it must be our business every day. We must ensure opportunities are open to all, realistic, achievable and essential to bring about a better Britain.

Lord Holmes is a Conservative peer.

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